2004 Readers' Choice Awards: Top Picks of the Factory Automation Industry

Tap into the collective mindset of CONTROL DESIGN readers to learn which machine control design system vendors won the annual 2004 Readers' Choice Awards for the best values in machine automation technology, and which product suppliers to the machine building industry offer the best customer service and support.

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SO THERE YOU ARE. You're the machine control system designer who has to track down some new automation and control sources to buy from. But you wonder how to get some unbiased intelligence about where to find the best value for your capital. You can and should ask your fellow company engineers. It certainly will make sense to ask some of your customers. But, perhaps even better than that, what if you could tap into the collective mindset of CONTROL DESIGN’s readers to get a sense of what they think.

Well, that’s exactly what you get with this edition of the results of our annual Readers’ Choice Awards balloting.

We put those technology choices in the capable hands of our performance-centric readers, and many of you answered our call again, telling us which automation suppliers provide the best instrumentation, controls, and automation technologies for their industrial machine builder community. They also made it abundantly clear which of those companies they think provide top-notch service and support.

Our model for this award hasn’t changed a lick. In September, we sent survey forms to more than 15,000 CONTROL DESIGN subscribers who tell us they have authority to specify, recommend, or purchase industrial automation and control products for industrial machines. 

Vendors are never eligible to vote, so we didn’t knowingly let any supplier get a ballot. The few times we unearthed a vendor in the response mix, we tore up the ballot with an indignant sense of purpose. This balloting is for our machine builder and system integrator readers. Period.

Our ballot is an unaided survey. We don’t include a list of vendors or product brands to choose from. We listed 53 hardware and software categories and asked participants to fill in the one best company for the products he or she had experience with. We received responses from nearly 300 readers.

While they chose the best technologies, we also asked them to rate the service and support they receive from these companies on a scale of 1 (ugh) to 5 (excellent).

Our published results include only those companies that received at least a 5% share of the vote in their category.

Allegiance Is Growing
We have a bumper crop of outright winners. The results reversed last year’s trend towards more product and company diversity within categories, even though the total number of companies making the cut this year grew from 85 to 93.

That’s because 40 of the 53 (76%) product categories returned margins of victory of 10% or greater vs. the second-best vote-getter. Last year, 34 races in 50 (68%) categories returned this result.

The number of close races--decided by margins of 5% or less--fell to nine, just one below 2002’s level of 10 and well down from last year’s 13. Five of the races were statistical dead heats, down from seven last year.

Nine companies turned in multiple-category wins. Demonstrating the impressive vote-getting power of previous years, Rockwell Automation won or tied for first place in 17 hardware and three software categories. Other multiple winners included Danaher with five, four for Emerson Process Measurement, and three for Parker, General Electric and National Instruments. Hoffman, Honeywell, and Pepperl+Fuchs each won twice.

Knockouts and Split Decisions
Seven of categories produced winners garnering more than 60% vote shares. There were five other categories where the winner didn't gain that clear majority, but still swept past its closest challenger by 25 percentage points or more.

As mentioned, we had 10 tightly contested races decided by five points or less that offset those seven 60%-share behemoths. We declared co-winners in four of those 10 races. In the six other close races, two categories were decided by just three percentage points.

Great Service or Are Readers Getting Soft?
Ninety-three companies received enough votes (5% or greater share) to appear in the published results.

You awarded 69 of them service and support scores of 4.0 or better. That's very good-to-excellent performance on a scale of 1-5. This represents a rather significant 15% increase compared to the number of companies recognized for their service last year.

Further, in 2003 only four companies were deemed worthy of service and support scores of 4.5 or better. This year you chose to recognize seven companies. Perhaps they took notice last year when you reduced those service kudos as compared with 2002, and decided to try to impress you this year.

Whether achieving a score of 4.7 or 4.0, any company making the service and support list should be pleased to receive this reader vote of confidence. As was the case last year, some of the companies achieved these noteworthy service marks in multiple categories. The Service and Support table lists those companies that readers identified as providing service with ratings of 4.0 or better.

Emerson Process Management and GE Fanuc were the only companies to score 4.7. AutomationDirect, GE, Rockwell Automation, and Siemens Energy & Automation achieved service scores of 4.6.

Four companies--AutomationDirect, Bosch Rexroth, Danfoss and GE Fanuc--tallied 4.5 scores across six product categories. 

Voters awarded twenty-six companies a service score of 4.0 or better in multiple categories. Rockwell Automation achieved this in some 26 product categories. GE/GE Fanuc and Siemens each were recognized for service in 10 product categories, Bosch Rexroth and Emerson Process Management each made the grade in five categories. 

So let’s get to it. Here, listed alphabetically by category, is this year's elite group. We welcome your analysis and comment about the outcome at controldesign@putman.net.

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